Before your fire up your weed eaters and trimmers and rampage through your yard cutting down and removing everything in sight this fall, stop! Take a step back. It’s time to reconsider your winter clean up protocol. 

Let’s take a look and change your perspective to see your winter landscape in a new way. You don’t need to cut everything down. Do you have any perennials or other plants that may offer winter interest if you left them untrimmed until after winter?

What Does Your Landscape Look Like in Winter?

Evergreens, ornamental grasses and hydrangeas definitely offer winter interest. Perennials can also add interest to the winter landscape, so don’t be too quick to cut them down. Study shapes, colors and form.

Not all dormant regions get dumped with snow. Some regions have lighter snowfalls that can highlight and sculpt the snow, creating something pretty to look at on those cold winter days.

Do you have plants with berries or seed heads that remain on the plants? They not only look great but provide food for birds and other wildlife. Leaving last year’s growth also gives songbirds a place to snuggle in for some protection from the cold and wind.

The tops of the perennials catch the snow to insulate the ground over the top of the plants. Leaving some of your natives and perennials up for the winter gives the beneficial insects a place to overwinter.

If you simply cut your perennial garden down to the ground in fall, you don’t have much to look at, no way to catch the blowing snow, no cover for songbirds and wildlife, no place for beneficial insects, and no seed heads left to feed the birds.

Vegetable Plants, Annuals and Peonies Should Be Removed

Did you know viruses can overwinter on the leaves and stems of vegetables and annual plants that only live a single season? For veggies and annuals plants, dig up and remove the entire plant to lessen the risk of disease and improve sanitation. Compost them or put them in your Yard Waste containers.

One perennial that does need to be trimmed down early fall of each year are Peonies. Peonies can get mildew and botrytis. Cut every Peony stem to the ground and bag them up for removal. This can eliminate the carryover of the problems that might re-infect the plants the following spring.

Also remove any perennials that had leaf spotting, mildew or disease problems of any kind. Cut them down to the ground after the frost has killed off the tops of the plants, bag them up and remove them from your yard for best sanitation practices. Remember, you don’t have to cut all of your perennials down to the ground each fall, just any one that showed some problems this past growing season.

Rose Care in Autumn

It is very important to leave your rose bushes untrimmed for the winter months. Do not cut your roses until spring!

Rose bushes left untrimmed may have rose hips that are showy all winter long and if not, the branches will catch the snow and add insulation to your rose plant. Roses love to have additional insulation in colder regions

The old fashioned method of overwintering roses was to cover them with rose cones. Today the easiest method is to pile on a mound of shredded hardwood mulch about a foot high directly on the stems of the plants.

In spring pull the mulch away and THEN cut them in the spring. Using this method, if there was some winter damage, you will cut and remove it.

Rose Selection

Flowering Shrub Care in Autumn

Know the best time to prune your shrubs. Don’t trim the plants which bloom on last .

Do not trim these shrubs in the fall: Flowering Quince, Forsythia, Rhododendrons & Azaleas, Prunus family, Weigela, all Lilacs and Magnolias. Wait until after they bloom in spring. Wait to trim until after the flowers fade.

Flowering Shrubs

A Better Way to Handle Leaves in Fall

Remember how we used to bag leaves them up and put them in the trash? What a chore that was! There is a better way.

Leaves on the grass should be mowed over, shredding them so they don’t mat and cover the grass. Keep mowing your grass until the leaves are chewed up and shredded. Compost them after shredding or used them as mulch around your garden. Put those leaves to good use!

Watering in Fall

Lastly, don’t forget to keep giving all of your newly planted trees and shrubs a good drink of water right up until they go dormant. Evergreens give off water all winter long so if you are in an area where the ground freezes up, be sure to water the roots well until the ground does freeze for best results.

Following the tips listed above should assist you preparing your yard for a restful winter season, ready and waiting for you in the spring. Enjoy your winter garden!